Review: The Sound Inside (Roundabout)

Two weeks I finally, finally, finally got around to seeing The Sound Inside at Studio 54.

Adam Rapp has been one of my favorite playwrights – if not my absolute favorite – since 2006 when I saw his play Red Light Winter at the Barrow Street Theatre. I’m sure I’ve talked about this all before on here in prior reviews of shows of his but I just love his writing. I can almost never pinpoint what he’s trying to say but I love how he writes and how his characters talk. I really grasped onto one of the themes of Red Light Winter (although I’d yet to ever travel to Amsterdam, and I wasn’t a prostitute, etc.) and I was a fan ever since.

Yes, if you must know, I knew who Adam Rapp was because I was a fan of his brother initially. But after Red Light Winter, I was a fan of his solely for his writing talents.

Anyways, Rapp had been quoted a few times saying that producers had approached him to mount his pieces on Broadway but he’d always refused their offers because his audience was downtown. Totally valid, and probably true given the content of some of (most of) his stuff.

But when it was announced that a play he wrote would be produced by Roundabout Theatre Company and be on Broadway at Studio 54, I was giddy. AND it was starring Mary Louise Parker? Things just kept getting better. Well, I finally saw it after it opened and I made sure not to read anything about the show. I wanted to go in with a fresh mind.

I sat down in my seat in the front mezzanine and waited for the lights to go down.

It began with a monologue from Mary Louise Parker, who played an accomplished 53-year-old Yale professor named Bella Baird. It was sardonic, dry, and comedic. Everything that I love about Adam Rapp’s writing. You could tell she was over her job.

After her monologue, she is soon visited by a fellow misfit student from one of her classes, Christopher Dunn (the lovely and captivating Will Hochman), who doesn’t use email and refuses to make an appointment like everyone else. He begins to share his novel with Bella and they grow closer and closer over the next 80 or so minutes. You never know where their relationship is going to go and I won’t spoil it here. Towards the end of the play, Bella enlists Christopher to help her with the ultimate task after she learns she has advanced-stage cancer (which, spoiler alert, he doesn’t).

Spoiler: A friend told me a theory she’d heard from another friend that Christopher actually doesn’t exist and a multitude of reasons why. I tweeted this theory and Rapp liked it, but he didn’t confirm or deny, so that was helpful.

I was on the edge of my seat most of the play, trying to guess what would happen, but I wasn’t really sure why. I liked both of the characters, a lot, but it’s not like I was dying for them to get together.

This isn’t for everyone, sure, but I really liked it and I’m happy that Roundabout didn’t water Rapp down for Broadway audiences. As per usual, Adam Rapp produced a masterclass in foreboding drama and I loved every second of it.

Everyone here knows that Adam Rapp is one of my favorite playwrights. i’ve seen 99% of his work that’s been produced in the city since I saw Red Light Winter in 2006. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make his reading/talkback/signing about The Hallway Trilogy at the Drama Book Shop today, but luckily we packed it in at a decent hour at work and I ran two blocks over.

He’s very visibly not entirely comfortable speaking in public, which is expected because he’s a playwright, not an actor. He looked down most of the time, avoiding eye contact. He read a short passage with the woman from the Theater Communication Group from The Hallway Trilogy, answered several questions about the genres he writes about, the characters he often writes, and a few questions about The Hallway Trilogy itself.

Then Nick Lawson and the actress whose name I can’t remember came up (there was actually a number of cast members from the off-Broadway production a few years ago in attendance) and read part of a scene from Paraffin (the second in the trilogy). Afterward he took more questions and I asked if he will ever write for Broadway, knowing that he’s turned down Broadway before because it’s not where his audience is. He said he’s turned down Broadway twice and since the New York Times is not a big fan of his, he doesn’t think there are any producers who’d take a chance on him anytime soon. (He jokingly said that he needs to wait for new critics to come to the Times.)

Afterward he signed copies of his plays so I bought a copy of The Hallway Trilogy (because it’s an awesome body of literature, duh), asked him a few questions about Red Light Winter on screen (he hopes they’ll start filming in January), shook his hand, and headed out. 

Broadway’s The Big Knife Will Star Marin Ireland, Richard Kind, Adam Rapp and Bobby Cannavale; Full Cast Announced

I can’t tell you how excited I want to read this yesterday. My favorite playwright…. ACTING… in a play?!… on BROADWAY?! Sign me up. Plus Marin Ireland? Here’s my money, Roundabout. Just take it now.

I wonder how Rapp will be onstage. He’s always avoided having his plays staged on Broadway (he’s been quoted as saying that his audience is the off-Broadway type), so his leap to ACT on Broadway is astonishing. I hope he’ll be great. Let’s be honest, he probably will be. 

And even if he’s not, I’ll love him onstage anyways. 

Broadway’s The Big Knife Will Star Marin Ireland, Richard Kind, Adam Rapp and Bobby Cannavale; Full Cast Announced

My Top Ten Moments of Theatre in 2011

It’s always hard to pick just five moments of New York theatre a to wrap up a year. But it’s especially difficult when you’ve seen and processed the most recent season so I thought I’d do a Top 10 list.

1. First on this list is obviously Sleep No More, presented by Punchdrunk. I’m glad I got in on this before people caught on to what was going on down in Chelsea. If you’ve gone to see Sleep No More, you know what it’s like and if you haven’t seen it, there’s really no way to explain it without sounding like a crazy person about why it was such an amazing experience. Save up your money and go buy yourself a ticket for 2012.

2. The next thing that instantly came to mind was Once, currently showing at the New York Theatre Workshop. Based on the indie movie of the same name, it’s a touching story of how one girl helps a musician achieve his dreams (and they kinda-sorta fall in love too). This was such a unique piece of theatre because it starts an hour before “curtain” time. The cast, who doubles as the band, is playing, singing, and dancing onstage for an hour before the actually story starts (and don’t worry, you’ll know when the show starts). They announced their transfer to Broadway hours before they opened off-Broadway, which is pretty amazing. It’s Spring Awakening for adults and it’s theme is to not live your life without pursuing your dreams – which is a pretty important one, if you ask me.

3. Next up comes The Hallway Trilogy presented by the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre and written by my favorite, Adam Rapp, which I just realized I never actually wrote about and that’s probably because there was no way to translate the experience into words. This was a hundred year history of this one hallway from the time of Eugene O’Neil to a time 50 years in the future when New York was disease free and now financially strapped individuals could make money being injected with ‘old fashioned’ diseases in a museum for the rich to come and witness.

4. I still can’t believe that American Idiot closed only this year; it all seems like so much longer ago. Whenever I think back to one of the most ridiculously energetic performances I saw, I immediately think back to February 27th, 2011 – the night John Gallagher Jr., Michael Esper, and Billie Joe Armstrong left the show. It felt like every single person in that theatre was there for those three guys and you could hear the love pouring out from them. It was just a ridiculous and amazing night, one that I will not soon forget.

5. An incredible moment that makes this list happened only last week. A benefit for Royal Family Productions, Anthony Rapp performed a reading of his brother Adam Rapp’s script Nocturne at Symphony Space, a few blocks from where I live on the Upper West Side in a night titled “Rapp Reads Rapp.” Nocturne was one of the few plays of Rapp’s that I had no familiarity with but oh boy is it amazing, and Anthony did an incredible job with it. By the end he was in tears.

6. I thought Thomas Sadowski was pretty good in 2009’s reasons to be pretty but he left me speechless in this season’s Broadway transfer of Other Desert Cities. His character was so complicated and went through so many emotions that I was absolutely exhausted and heart broken watching him from the front row. 

7. When you try to think of the most fantastic actress discovered out-of-the-blue in the last five years, you’d be hard pressed to think of someone more talented of Nina Arianda and her performance in Venus in Fur. Her performance is a tour-de-force and isn’t to be missed. I’m not sure how to use words to describe it actually. It has to be seen and not described. She crashes through the door ten minutes into the script and the whirlwind that she creates onstage never stops.

8. When I think of Norbert Leo Butz, I will always think of him as my first Roger in Rent in 1998. The next moment I’ll think of is his performance in this year’s Catch Me If You Can. Catch Me was a [mostly] bore of a show that had all the makings of what should’ve been a great musical, but the only reason I saw it twice was to watch Mr. Butz. He danced and moved in ways that I didn’t think he could during the song “Breaking All the Rules.” Watching him on the Tony’s, and then win his second Tony, it was a great thing.

9. I missed Boeing Boeing a few years ago and after seeing Mark Rylance in both La Bete and Jerusalem this year, that will forever be one of my great theatre-related regrets. I will still stand my ground that Mark Rylance was even better in La Bete than in Jerusalem, but for the purposes of doing a review of the year of 2011, I’ll talk about his performance in Jerusalem.  Playing a modern day pied piper in England, you loved him, you felt bad for him, you loved listening to his rambling. Like I said back in April, Rylance might be one of the great actors of our day.

10. I’ve been a fan of Jan Maxwell since I worked at Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang in 2005 and I’ve seen almost everything she’s done since. She’s never won a Tony but this just might be her year with her mouth-dropping turn in this season’s revival of Follies. She brings down the house in Act 2 like I’ve never seen her do. I never knew she could dance like she does, and she’s absolutely heartbreaking. Follies isn’t my cup of tea when it comes to musical theatre, but I’d see it again to watch her onstage.   

So, I think that’s it. Honorable mentions go to War Horse (breathtaking, just absolutely mind-blowing), The Normal Heart (after the 2010 reading, this production was magnificent), The Book of Mormon (I’m glad I saw this in previews), How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Mr. Radcliffe blew me away with his moves, and after wanting to see this show revived again for so many years, this is a great production), and The Amoralists (a fantastic theatre company that produces really unique theatrical experiences such as this one and this one). 

I won’t deny the fact that there was a ton of crap produced on and off-Broadway this year, but it’d be silly to neglect to acknowledge the amazing moments that I was fortunate enough to see too. We’ll see what 2012 holds.

photo taken in April 2011

In a tiny room at the back of The Gershwin Hotel in Grammercy, a group of 20 people are treated to one of the most intense and intimate theatrical experiences in New York.  The Amoralists have struck dramatic gold again with their new production, HotelMotel, featuring Pink Knees on Pale Skin by Derek Ahonen, and Animals and Plants by Adam Rapp.  We were given hotel room keys on our way in for re-entry after the 30-minute intermission between plays.  

The first play, Pale Knees on Pink Skin, took place in a 5-star expensive hotel room and followed the story of an orgy therapist (yup!), her husband, and two couples whom she is trying to help (while playing with their minds, of course).  The seven actors were incredibly committed to the integrity of the piece, especially when one scene called for the acting of a husband performing oral on her wife to the point of climax.  The end of Pink Knees is ultimately depressing, but I completely enjoyed the script because of it’s immensely interesting medical analyzations of the two couples delivered by Dr. Sarah Bauer (played expertly by Sarah Lemp).  

James Kautz and Vanessa Vache as the older, more professional couple Robert and Caroline Wyatt, stay true to the characters of a wife who’s been cheated on and a husband trying to regain her trust.  However Byron Anthony and Anna Stromberg are also compelling and heartbreaking simultaneously as the younger, more artsy couple Theordore and Allison Williams, who struggle their inabilities to achieve intimacy in bed.  Rounding out the cast are Jordan Tisdale as Leroy, Dr. Lemp’s hurting boyfriend, and Nick Lawson as Dr. Bauer’s confused and timid son Norman.

Animals and Plants, on the other hand, made very little sense but somehow still manages to be entertaining (as Rapp plays so often are).  Animals is about two drug mules, Dantly (William Apps) and Burris (Matthew Pilieci) who are holed up in a disgusting motel room in Boone, NC and waiting for a delivery of drugs.  The plot is murky but surrounds what transpires between Dantly and a stereotypical tree-hugger type character who he’d met that day, Cassandra (Kaite Broad) and the haunting ghost of Cassandra’s ex-husband Buck (played frightening by Brian Mendes).  Honestly, I didn’t understand Buck’s nonsensical interruption of the action and the play wouldn’t have been any worse off without his presence.  The end of Animals is also depressing, and bloody, with the suspicious of betrayal and the exit of Cassandra.  

I will always love everything Adam Rapp writes, but in this instance I think I enjoyed Pink Knees on Pale Skin more.  Regardless of which play is “better,” if you can swing the $50 ticket price, you won’t regret it (through August only).  Visit The Amoralists website for more information.

(Photo by Monica Simoes. (L-R): Sarah Lemp as Dr. Sarah Bauer, Nick Lawson as Norman and Jordan Tisdale as Leroy in Pink Knees on Pale Skin.)

Ticket was graciously provided gratis by DARR Publicity.

I’m seeing all three parts next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  I initially wanted to do all three parts in a day but this works too.  I’m excited beyond words.  These are what the three parts are about:

Part 1, Rose takes place on the evening of November 28th, 1953, the day following the death of Eugene O’Neill (directed by Rapp).

Part 2, Paraffin is set on the first evening of the 2003 New York City blackout (directed by Aukin).

Part 3, Nursing is set in 2053 in a disease-free New York when the tenement has been transformed into a museum where young men and women in need of cash are injected with old-fashioned diseases for the amusement of the public (directed by Cullman).

I wish I knew how Rapp came up with his ideas.

I’ve professed my adoration of Adam Rapp’s work many times and I will continue to do as long as he keeps writing plays that leave me speechless like last night’s Ghosts in the Cottonwoods, produced by The Amoralists at Theatre 80 on St. Mark’s Place.

Ghosts in the Cottonwoods takes place in a run-down cabin in the south.  Bean Scully (Sarah Lemp) lives in the one-room hovel with her 18 year old son Pointer (Nick Lawson), and on this stormy night, they are awaiting the arrival of Jeff (James Kautz), the older son who has recently escaped after 6 years in prison.  After a few unexpected arrivals, their night does not go as originally planned.

There was violence, blood, rape, and implied incest.  Just your typical Adam Rapp play.

Direction by Rapp was spot on, and the cast (also with William Apps, Mandy Nicole Moore, and Matthew Pileci in addition to those mentioned above) played these intense and difficult roles with ease.  Moore could have quite the career if she followed in the footsteps of Zoe Kazan, as that was who she reminded us of.  

Ghosts in the Cottonwood is not to be missed for fans of Rapp.  It plays at Theatre 80 through December 6th.  

(image via)